; Importance of Hand Washing
Medical experts say the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease is for people to wash their hands with soap and water.
The World Bank, the United Nations, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine carried out a study to urge hand- washing around the world. They say that programs to increase hand- washing with soap could be among the most effective ways to reduce infectious disease. They say that one-million lives could be saved each year if people washed their hands with soap often.
Doctors say many diseases can be prevented from spreading by
hand-washing. These include pinworms, influenza, the common cold, hepatitis A, meningitis and infectious diarrhea.
Hand-washing destroys germs from other people, animals or objects a person has touched. When people get bacteria on their hands, they can infect themselves by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Then these people can infect other people.
The experts say the easiest way to catch a cold is to touch your nose or eyes after someone nearby has sneezed or coughed. Another way to become sick is to eat food prepared by someone whose hands were not clean.
The experts say that hand-washing is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating and after using the toilet. People should wash their hands after handling animals or animal waste, and after cleaning a baby. The experts say it is also a good idea to wash your hands after handling money and after sneezing or coughing. And it is important to wash your hands often when someone in your home is sick.
The experts say the most effective way to wash your hands is to rub them together after using soap and warm water. They say you do not have to use special anti-bacterial soap. Be sure to rub all areas of the hands for about ten to fifteen seconds. The soap and the rubbing action remove germs. Rinse the hands with water and dry them.
Experts say that people using public bathrooms should dry their hands with a paper towel and use the towel to turn off the water. They also advise using the paper towel to open the bathroom door before throwing the towel away.
; Prion Diseases
In December, the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease. Agriculture officials have been working to make sure other cows that came from Canada with that animal are not used as food. This is because of the possibility that people who eat infected beef can get a human form of the disease. Officials say more than one-hundred-forty people in Britain have died since an outbreak of mad cow disease in the nineteen-eighties. Ten deaths have been reported in other countries.
The scientific name of the cattle disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
A similar disease in sheep is known as scrapie. Deer and elk suffer chronic wasting
disease. And minks get a disease called transmissable mink encephalopathy.
In humans, there is a disease in babies called Alpers syndrome. Other similar
diseases in people include fatal familial insomnia, kuru and Creutzfeld-Jacob
disease. The human version of mad cow disease is a form, or variant, of Creutzfeld-Jacob.
All these diseases create holes in the brain. All kill. And experts say all are caused by infectious proteins. American scientist Stanley Prusiner discovered this kind of protein in the early nineteen-eighties. He named it a “prion” [PREE-on]. He
won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Prions contain no genetic material. So they cannot copy themselves the way bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents do.
Prions are found naturally in brain cells of people and animals. Research published last month in Cell magazine suggested that prions could help the brain store memories. But experts are not sure of their purpose.
Prions appear to do no harm until one changes shape. Normally a prion is round like a ball. The protein becomes dangerous when it unfolds into a straight line. When it touches another prion, the second one unfolds and touches another. That one also unfolds, and so on.
This process can start naturally. Or it can begin when an unfolded prion enters the brain of a person or animal that has eaten infected tissue. This is why farmers are now banned from feeding cows the remains of other cows and sheep.
Researchers are trying to discover more about prions. A big question is why only some people who ate infected beef have gotten sick.
; Progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
American researchers say that eating fatty foods can worsen the progress of the eye disease called age-related macular degeneration or A-M-D.
A-M-D is a major cause of blindness among people over the age of fifty in industrial nations. Experts say that five-hundred-thousand people around the world are found to have A-M-D each year. They say more than twenty-five-million people are affected by some kind of A-M-D. And they expect the number to increase during the next twenty-five years.
The cause of A-M-D is unknown. The disease destroys the central part of the retina, the cells at the back of the eye that gather light. This area of the eye is called the macula. Macular degeneration causes abnormal blood vessels to grow there. These blood vessels can bleed and damage tissue. A person with the disease can see little or nothing out of the center of the eye.
There are two kinds of macular degeneration. The most common and less severe kind is called the “dry form.” It may or may not develop into the other kind of A-M-D, known as the “wet form.” This kind of A-M-D causes most of the serious vision loss. It involves the leaking blood vessels.
The first sign of the disease is usually a loss of visual clearness. Later, people have trouble reading, driving and recognizing faces. Blindness is the end result.
The new study was reported in the publication “The Archives of
Ophthalmology.” It involved about two-hundred-sixty people with at least some vision loss from macular degeneration. The researchers studied them for more than four years.
They found that the chance of the disease getting worse was two times greater in the people who ate highly fatty foods such as baked goods sold in stores. They said both vegetable and animal fats were responsible. The researchers said that diets high in meat and milk products also increased the chances of the disease becoming worse, but not as much as baked foods. And they said the people in the study who ate a lot of fish and nuts reduced the chances that their macular degeneration would get worse.
The researchers said little evidence exists about what affects the progress of A-M-D. They called for more research into the link between fats and A-M-D.
; New Method to Find Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease usually appears late in life. In the United States alone, experts say about four million people have this brain disorder. Over time, it robs people of their memory and ability to think. There are no cures.
Until now, Alzheimer’s could be confirmed only by examining brain tissue after death or by taking brain tissue from a living patient. Now, a new test offers hope that Alzheimer’s may be found earlier.
Experts currently give written and spoken tests to help decide if a person has the disease. They also use a process called magnetic resonance imaging to see the brain changes that may mean Alzheimer’s.
Many patients already have been seriously affected by the time the disease shows up on these M-R-I’s. Most of the materials believed linked to the disease are present on the image. They are called protein clumps.
But the new test makes it possible to see the protein clumps before they could be found by M-R-I. The new test might identify the disease before a person shows signs of Alzheimer’s. Treatment could begin earlier. Doctors could see if the treatment is helping. New or improved drugs may be developed.
William Klunk of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania helped invent the test. It calls for patients to receive a small amount of a radioactive molecule called Pittsburgh Compound B. It is administered through the blood.
Doctor Klunk says it connects itself to proteins called amyloid plaques. These plaques exist in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Doctors can see them with an
examination called a PET scan. Proteins affected by Alzheimer’s show as yellow
For years, Doctor Klunk and his team searched for a substance that could connect with the amyloid. Finally they found a material that can reach the brain through the blood. This Pittsburgh Compound B can color the amyloid.
The finding led to a test of sixteen suspected Alzheimer’s patients. The
researchers say the test found amyloid in those patients. It also found small amounts in one of nine healthy people tested for comparison. Testing on more people is needed. The United States Food and Drug Administration currently is considering approval of the process.
; How Antiviral Drugs Work
Here is a common situation: A person gets sick with a high temperature, muscle pain and a cough. The person goes to a doctor to ask for some antibiotics to
treat the infection. The doctor says the person has influenza which is caused by a virus. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. They only treat infections caused by bacteria. But there are newer kinds of medicines known as antivirals.
A case of the flu usually lasts a week or two. Scientists at the United States Centers for Disease Control say early antiviral treatment can shorten that time by about one day. But they say for this to happen, people must take the medicine within the first two days of sickness.
Four antiviral drugs are approved for use against influenza in the United States. They mainly fight infections in the breathing system. Each drug has possible side effects. In the United States, a person must have an order from a doctor to receive these medicines.
Scientists say two of the four drugs are effective against the infection caused by the type A influenza virus. They are not effective against influenza type B. The other two drugs can treat both. One of these antiviral medicines, called oseltamivir, can also help prevent influenza.
Viruses invade cells and copy the genetic material inside in order to reproduce. Some antivirals work by preventing this process. Or they may interfere with the ability of the virus to connect itself to the cell. Other antiviral drugs prevent the virus from destroying the protective protein around a cell.
The first antiviral drugs were created in the nineteen-sixties. A number of new antivirals were in common use by the nineteen-nineties. Progress in the engineering of genes and the science of molecular biology made these new medicines possible. Some have helped patients suffering from diseases like hepatitis B in the liver. Other kinds of antiviral drugs are able to suppress H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS, so a person lives longer.
Antibiotics are made from bacteria. The drugs contain organisms that damage the cells of other microbes that cause sickness. The British doctor Alexander Fleming discovered what is generally accepted as the first antibiotic, penicillin. That was in nineteen-twenty-eight. Penicillin did not come into common use, however, until the nineteen-forties.
; Heart Disease in Women
Studies show that many American women believe breast cancer is the biggest threat to their health. But more than ten times as many women die of cardiovascular diseases. These are diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Heart attacks and strokes are the leading killer of both men and women.
Breast cancer kills about forty-thousand women in the United States each year. But heart attacks and strokes kill about five-hundred-thousand. In fact, fifteen percent more women than men die of cardiovascular disease. Yet many people still think of it mainly affecting men.
The American Heart Association has new guidelines to help prevent heart attacks and strokes in women. It published the guidelines in Circulation: the Journal of the American Heart Association.
For example, the guidelines urge women not to use hormone replacement therapy as a way to protect the heart. Hormone replacement is for women past the time when they can have children. But recent studies have shown that it may do more harm than good.
The guidelines also urge women to know their risk of heart attack or heart disease. They suggest that a woman talk to her doctor about this beginning as young as the age of twenty.
The heart association Web site has information that can help people measure their level of risk. The address is americanheart-dot-o-r-g.
Users answer some questions. They enter their age and whether or not they smoke. They need to know the level of cholesterol in their blood. And they need to know their blood pressure.
A total score below ten percent is considered low risk. This means that a woman has less than a ten percent chance of a heart attack in the next ten years. The next level of ten to twenty percent is considered intermediate risk. More than twenty percent is high risk.
The heart association says those at high risk should ask their doctor for medicine that lowers cholesterol. Women are also urged to ask for treatment if their blood pressure is one-hundred-forty over ninety or higher.
The guidelines say women at intermediate or high risk should consider taking an aspirin each day. Aspirin may reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Again, the Web site is americanheart.org. American heart is all one word.
; Centers for Disease Control
One of the major health agencies in the United States is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is known as the C-D-C. “Prevention” was added
to the name later. The agency has many jobs. For example, it recently provided information to the public about ricin. Some of that poison had been found in a Senate office building in Washington. The C-D-C advised people about ways to stay safe if they ever found ricin.
The C-D-C warns, advises and reports on health subjects from around the world. For example, it is currently providing information about avian influenza. The outbreak of bird flu in Asia has killed more than twenty people in Thailand and Vietnam.
The agency also is advising people how to protect against cold weather and poorly heated homes in winter. And the C-D-C just gave Americans the newest estimate of how long they can expect to live. In two-thousand-two, average life expectancy reached seventy-seven-point-four years. But the C-D-C also reported an increase in the rate of deaths among newborn babies that year. It was the first increase in the United States since nineteen-fifty-eight.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its main offices and laboratories are in Atlanta, Georgia. Eight-thousand-five-hundred people work for the C-D-C. These include doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers and others. They all have some part in trying to learn how diseases start, and where and how they spread.
C-D-C laboratories examine tissue, blood and other substances to help identify diseases. For example, the C-D-C recently confirmed the presence in Bangladesh of a viral infection similar to the Nipah virus. This virus was first recognized in nineteen-ninety-nine in Nipah, Malaysia. It was blamed for widespread cases of encephalitis, a brain infection. More than one-hundred people died of the disease.
C-D-C experts are ready to travel anywhere in the world to help deal with outbreaks of disease. The faster the cause is identified, the faster health workers can take steps to contain and control it.
The C-D-C Web site offers information about how to prevent and treat a number of sicknesses, and how to stay healthy. The address is w-w-w dot c-d-c dot g-o-v.
; How Much Water Should People Drink?
Many people believe they are supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, or about two liters. Why? Because that is what they have been told all their life. But a new report offers some different advice. Experts say people should obey their bodies; they should drink as much water as they feel like drinking.
The report says most healthy people meet their daily needs for liquid by letting thirst be their guide. The report is from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies. This organization provides scientific and technical advice to the government and the public.
The report contains some general suggestions. The experts say women should get about two-point-seven liters of water daily. Men should get about three-point-seven liters. But wait -- in each case, that is more than eight glasses.
There is an important difference. The report does not tell people how many glasses of water to drink. In fact, the experts say it may be impossible to know how many glasses are needed to meet these guidelines. This is because the daily water requirement can include the water content in foods.
People do not get water only by forcing themselves to drink a set number of glasses per day. People also drink fruit juices and sodas and milk. They drink coffee and tea. These all contain water. Yet some also contain caffeine. This causes the body to expel more water. But the writers of the report say this does not mean the body loses too much water.
As you might expect, the Institute of Medicine says people need to drink more water when they are physically active. The same is true of those who live in hot climates. Depending on heat and activity, people could need two times as much water as others do.
All this, however, does not answer one question. No one seems sure why people have the idea that good health requires eight glasses of water daily.
It may have started with a misunderstanding. In nineteen-forty-five, the National Academy of Sciences published some guidelines. Its Food and Nutrition Board said a good amount of water for most adults was two-point-five liters daily. This was based on an average of one milliliter for each calorie of food eaten.
But that was only part of what the board said. It also said that most of this amount is contained in prepared foods.
; New Drug Cuts Blood Supply to Cancer
There is an expression that describes the traditional three steps that doctors use to treat cancer: "cut, burn and poison." Cut out the growth. Burn the cancerous cells with radiation. Poison those that remain with chemotherapy drugs.
More than thirty years ago, a young American doctor proposed another way. Doctor Judah Folkman thought cutting the blood supply to cancers could block their growth. For a long time, many other scientists dismissed this theory.
But, last month, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug that works the way he proposed. The drug is called Avastin. The Genentech company developed it to lengthen the lives of people with colon cancer that has spread in the body. It does not cure the disease, however.
To test the drug, some patients received both Avastin and chemotherapy chemicals. Others received only chemotherapy. The people who had both generally survived for twenty months. That was about five months longer than those on chemotherapy alone.
Avastin is a genetically engineered protein. It connects with a protein in the body that helps blood vessels grow. That protein is known as V.E.G.F., vascular endothelial growth factor. Blocking this growth factor can interfere with the supply of blood to the cancer and starve the cells.
Avastin is designed to target the weak places in cancer cells. It does not damage normal tissue. Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, but usually also kill other cells. This can cause infections along with stomach and intestinal problems.
Today, Judah Folkman is a professor at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the nineteen-sixties he worked at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Doctor Folkman thought that cancers put out some kind of material that made new blood vessels form. He thought it might be possible to develop new treatments if the vessel growth could be blocked. Today other drugs are also being tested to see if they can stop the formation of blood vessels.
Avastin is one of three new drugs approved for colon cancer in the past two years. But some doctors also note that these new medicines cost a lot more than older treatments.
; Scientists Find New Clue about Acupuncture
American researchers have reported progress in learning how the ancient traditional Chinese method of acupuncture fights pain and other conditions. During acupuncture, very small, sharp needles are placed in the skin at targeted points on the body. Bruce Rosen presented an acupuncture study at a meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Orlando, Florida. Doctor Rosen is with the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
Doctor Rosen reported that the study findings could show how the brain might help people suffering from a number of health problems. These include pain, unexplained worry and sadness and some disorders of the stomach and intestines. The findings also may aid people who are fighting dependence on substances like illegal drugs.
Doctor Rosen led a team that studied about twenty healthy people. The team examined the people with functional magnetic resonance imaging devices. MRI's can show changes in the flow of blood and the amount of oxygen in the blood. They studied the people before, during and after acupuncture. The researchers placed acupuncture needles in the skin on the peoples' hands. They chose places linked to pain relief in traditional Chinese acupuncture.
Most of the people reported that their hands felt heavy after the needles were placed. Blood flow to some areas of the brain decreased quickly in these people. Doctor Rosen said that was a sign that the acupuncture was working correctly.
But a few of the people said their hands hurt. Their needles were probably not placed correctly. Their MRI's showed an increase in blood in the same areas of the brain where the other people showed a decrease.
Doctor Rosen reported that this means that acupuncture eased the work of the brain. The affected brain areas are the forebrain, the cerebellum and the brainstem. They help control pain and emotions. These areas have a rich supply of a chemical called dopamine.
Doctor Rosen said the reduced blood flow may lead to changes in dopamine. This, in turn, leads to a reaction that releases endorphins. These brain chemicals reduce pain and help fight feelings of sadness.